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The Spirit and the risen "spiritual body" (cf 1 Cor 15, 44)

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the History of Salvation
General Audience, Wednesday 4 November 1998 - in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"1. “Our homeland”, the Apostle Paul teaches, “is in heaven, and from it we await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power which enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Phil 3:20-21).

Just as the Holy Spirit transformed the body of Jesus Christ when the Father raised him from the dead, so the same Spirit will clothe our bodies with Christ’s glory. St Paul writes: “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Rom 8:11).

2. From the start, Christian faith in the resurrection of the flesh has encountered misunderstanding and opposition. The Apostle experienced this firsthand when he was proclaiming the Gospel in the middle of the Areopagus in Athens: “When they heard of the resurrection of the dead”, the Acts of the Apostles recounts, “some mocked; but others said, 'We will hear you again about this'” (Acts 17:32).

This difficulty has been raised in our time as well. On the one hand, even those who believe in some form of survival after death react sceptically to the truth of faith that clarifies this ultimate question of human existence in the light of Jesus Christ’s Resurrection. On the other, many have noted the fascination with a belief like reincarnation, which is rooted in the religious soil of certain Eastern cultures (cf. Tertio millennio adveniente, n. 9).

Christian revelation is not satisfied with a vague sense of survival, although it appreciates the intimation of immortality expressed in the teaching of some great God-seekers. We can also agree that the idea of reincarnation arose from an intense desire for immortality and from the perception that human life is the “test” in view of an ultimate end, as well as from the need for complete purification in order to attain communion with God. However, reincarnation does not ensure the unique, individual identity of each human creature as the object of God’s personal love, nor the integrity of human existence as “incarnate spirit”.

3. The witness of the New Testament emphasizes first of all the realism of the Resurrection, corporal as well, of Jesus Christ. The Apostles explicitly attest to this when referring to their experience of the risen Lord’s appearances: “God raised him on the third day and made him manifest ... to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead” (Acts 10:40-41). The fourth Gospel also stresses this realism when, for example, it recounts the episode in which the Apostle Thomas is invited by Jesus to put his finger in the mark of the nails and his hand in the Lord’s pierced side (cf. Jn 20:24-29). And in the appearance at the shore of the Sea of Tiberias, the risen Jesus “took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish” (Jn 21:13).

The realism of these appearances testifies that Jesus rose with his body and lives with this body at the Father’s side. However, it is a glorious body that is no longer subject to the laws of space and time, transformed in the glory of the Father. In the risen Christ we see revealed that eschatological state which all those who accept his Redemption are one day called to reach, preceded by the Blessed Virgin who, “when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory” (Pius XII, Apost. Const. Munificentissimus Deus, 1 Nov. 1950, DS 3903; cf. Lumen gentium, n. 59).

4. Referring to the account of creation in the book of Genesis and interpreting Jesus’ Resurrection as the “new creation”, the Apostle Paul can thus say: “The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit” (1 Cor 15:45). In a mysterious but real way, all who believe in Christ share in his glorified reality through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Thus, in Christ “all will rise again with the bodies which they now bear” (Fourth Lateran Council, DS 801), but this body of ours will be changed into a glorious body (cf. Phil 3:21), into a “spiritual body” (1 Cor 15:44). When some ask Paul: “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?”, he answers them in the First Letter to the Corinthians, using the image of the seed which dies in order to open into new life: “What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body which is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain.... So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown in a physical body; it is raised in a spiritual body.... For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality” (1 Cor 15:36-37, 42-44, 53).

Certainly, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, “how” this will come about “exceeds our imagination and understanding; it is accessible only to faith. Yet our participation in the Eucharist already gives us a foretaste of Christ’s transfiguration of our bodies” (n. 1000).

Through the Eucharist Jesus gives us, under the appearances of bread and wine, his flesh which is enlivened by the Holy Spirit and gives life to our flesh, so that we can share in his Resurrection and state of glory with all our being, spirit and body. In this regard St Irenaeus of Lyons teaches: “Just as bread that comes from the earth, after God’s blessing has been invoked upon it, is no longer ordinary bread, but Eucharist, formed of two things, the one earthly and the other heavenly: so too our bodies, which partake of the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, but possess the hope of resurrection” (Adversus Haereses, IV, 18, 4-5).

5. What we have said thus far, synthesizing the teaching of Sacred Scripture and the Church’s Tradition, explains why “the Christian Creed ... culminates in the proclamation of the resurrection of the body on the last day, and in life everlasting” (CCC, n. 988). By the Incarnation the Word of God has taken on human flesh (cf. Jn 1:14), enabling it to share, through his Death and Resurrection, in his own glory as the Father’s Only-begotten Son. Through the gifts of the Spirit, the Father instils in all man’s being and, in a certain way, in the universe itself, a yearning for this destiny. As St Paul says: “The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God ... because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom 8:19-21).

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages:

Je salue cordialement les pèlerins de langue française, notamment les élèves et les professeurs du Centre Pierre Faure de Paris. A tous, je donne de grand cœur la Bénédiction apostolique.
I warmly greet the consecrated members of the Mary Ward Institute present at this audience. I extend a sincere welcome to the members of the American College of Trial Lawyers, as well as to the participants in the Congress of The European Law Students’ Association. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from England, Denmark, the Philippines and the United States, I invoke the joy and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Mit diesen Gedanken grüße ich die Pilger und Besucher, die aus den Ländern deutscher Sprache nach Rom gekommen sind. Unter ihnen heiße ich besonders willkommen: die Behindertengruppen des Malteser-Hilfsdienstes aus Landshut und Leverkusen sowie die Ehepaare aus Forchheim und Bamberg, die ihre Silberhochzeit feiern. Euch allen, Euren lieben Angehörigen daheim und allen, die mit uns über Radio Vatikan und das Fernsehen verbunden sind, erteile ich von Herzen den Apostolischen Segen.
Saludo con afecto a los visitantes de lengua española, en particular, al grupo de la Confraternidad Judeo-Cristiana de Chile. Saludo igualmente a los peregrinos de Argentina, México, demás Países latinoamericanos y España.

Recibo con profunda tristeza las alarmantes noticias sobre el elevadísimo numero de víctimas que está causando el huracán "Mitch" en América Central y el Caribe, principalmente en Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador y Guatemala. Mientras elevo mi plegaria de sufragio por los fallecidos, expreso mi total cercanía espiritual a las innumerables personas probadas por el cataclismo. Al mismo tiempo, dirijo ahora un fuerte llamado, sobre todo a las instituciones públicas y privadas, así como a todos los hombres de buena voluntad, para que movidos por sentimientos de solidaridad fraterna presten todo tipo de ayuda a las poblaciones afectadas, y les presten el socorro necesario en este grave momento de destrucción y muerte. Como expresión de mi solicitud y cercanía a estos queridos pueblos, les otorgo la Bendición Apostólica.
Saúdo cordialmente os peregrinos de língua portuguesa que porventura se encontrem aqui presentes na praça S. Pedro, e a todos os que me ouvem pela rádio ou pela televisão, de modo especial os portugueses e brasileiros anunciados. A todos formulo meus votos de paz e de alegria no Senhor, e invoco abundantes luzes do Espírito Consolador, para que vos inspire um amor desinteressado pelos demais e vos anime a ser solidários com os que sofrem e padecem necessidade, ao conceder-vos de coração, extensiva às vossas famílias, minha Bênção Apostólica.
Traduzione italiana del saluto in lingua lituana

Cari pellegrini lituani!

E' con grande piacere che vi porgo il benvenuto e vi ringrazio per la vostra partecipazione a questo incontro. Risuoni in ciascuno di voi l'invito del Santo Apostolo Paolo a cercare le "cose di lassù" (Col. 3,1) per riscoprire nella fede il vero senso dell'esistenza umana.

Mentre vi affido alla materna protezione di Maria Santissima, imparto con affetto a tutti voi, ai vostri familiari e all'intero popolo lituano la mia Benedizione Apostolica. Sia lodato Gesù Cristo.
Traduzione italiana del saluto in lingua slovacca

Cordialmente saluto i giovani pellegrini slovacchi del Ginnasio cattolico di Madre Alexia di Bratislava.

Cari fratelli e sorelle, siete venuti a salutare il Santo Padre proprio nel giorno del suo onomastico. Vi ringrazio per tutte le vostre preghiere con le quali accompagnate la mia missione di Supremo Pastore della Chiesa Universale.

Che il santo Carlo Borromeo sia per voi un esempio nell’impegno per la vera sapienza, devozione e carità.

Vi benedico di cuore.

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

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Nel salutare i pellegrini italiani, rivolgo un cordiale benvenuto ai Missionari di diverse Congregazioni e Diocesi che partecipano al corso promosso dalla Pontificia Università Salesiana. Carissimi, vi accompagni la continua assistenza del Signore, affinché il corso di formazione che state seguendo valga a ravvivare il vostro generoso impegno di autentici apostoli del Vangelo. Con questi sentimenti, di cuore benedico voi e quanti sono affidati alle vostre cure pastorali.

Desidero salutare anche il gruppo di giovani appartenenti al Movimento "Amici di Maria Immacolata", che partecipano ad un Convegno Internazionale promosso in occasione del centenario di fondazione dell'Istituto delle Figlie di Maria Immacolata. Cari giovani, formulo voti che il ricordo della fondatrice, la Serva di Dio Brigida Maria Postorino, contribuisca ad infondere in voi rinnovato fervore spirituale per una generosa testimonianza cristiana.

Saluto, poi, la numerosa rappresentanza ecclesiale e civile proveniente da Grumo Nevano, in Diocesi di Aversa. Carissimi, nell'esprimere la mia gratitudine per la vostra presenza, auspico di cuore che il vostro pellegrinaggio alle tombe degli Apostoli e dei Martiri romani rafforzi i vostri propositi di testimonianza evangelica, in preparazione anche al Grande Giubileo dell'Anno Duemila.

Desidero, infine, rivolgere un particolare saluto ai giovani, agli ammalati ed agli sposi novelli. Ricorre oggi la memoria liturgica di San Carlo Borromeo, Vescovo insigne della Diocesi di Milano, che, animato da ardente amore per Cristo, fu instancabile maestro e guida dei fratelli. Il suo esempio aiuti voi, cari giovani, a lasciarvi condurre da Cristo nelle vostre scelte per seguirLo senza timore; incoraggi voi, carissimi ammalati, ad offrire la vostra sofferenza per i Pastori della Chiesa e per la salvezza delle anime; sostenga voi, cari sposi novelli, nel generoso servizio alla vita.

* * *

Ringrazio di cuore per gli auguri e le preghiere a me offerti per l’onomastico. Quella di San Carlo Borromeo è la figura di un grande Pastore, il cui luminoso esempio mi ha sempre accompagnato e sostenuto. Alla sua intercessione affido il mio ministero e quello di tutti i vescovi ed i sacerdoti della Chiesa.

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